NZ’s largest early childhood provider recruits overseas
While welcoming the Government’s 10-Year Strategic Plan for early learning, BestStart, the country’s largest early childhood education provider, questions plans for more teachers given the acute shortage, says Fiona Hughes, Deputy CE.
“While we strongly support plans to boost quality, we need good teachers now, and there are few solutions in sight to address the immediate chronic shortage.” The 10-year plan includes a proposal to increase teacher ratios and grow the number of qualified teachers to 100%.
“We are concerned this is a tall ask, given we’re in the middle of the most acute teacher shortage we’ve ever experienced.” Because of this, BestStart has invested in its own international campaign to recruit early childhood teachers to its centres.
“Our preference would be to prioritise New Zealand trained teachers but there are simply not enough there. We need to act now for an immediate solution.”
BestStart has initiated a digital marketing campaign, targeting countries best aligned to New Zealand qualifications.
Says Hughes: “In Auckland alone, BestStart has over 70 vacancies with some taking up to 150 days to fill. That’s despite our high staff retention rates. Many other early childhood providers around the country are suffering.”
Hughes believes there are some
thorny ‘feeder’ factors in the shortage that will take
years to resolve.
“The first issue is that early childhood teacher trainees have gone into a massive decline, halving from 3585 in 2010 to 1500 last year. This is far more dramatic than declining Primary and Secondary teacher statistics.”
Hughes believes the shortage is due to numerous factors: “There’s a litany of perception, value and remuneration issues plaguing the sector. Most is to do with status – early childhood has long been relegated to the bottom of the education status ladder. Many a qualified early childhood teacher has heard the ‘that must be fun – you get to play all day’ comment in response to their employment.
“Perceptions that children are ‘just playing’ adds to the sector’s ongoing case of mistaken identity. This – despite early childhood teachers holding three-year degrees and teaching the world-renown curriculum Te Whariki.”
“Historically, the government’s failure to properly resource the early childhood sector is surprising given that research clearly shows early childhood education is the most important stage in one’s education journey. We’ve known for years that its impact is far greater than Primary, Secondary or even Tertiary.”
Adding to the ‘ouch’ factor, there’s been a blossoming in negative media about the quality of early childhood education. There’s been a plethora of bleak headlines and stories, impacting the reputation of ECE and its desirability as an occupation.
The sector is misrepresented, says Hughes. “Those that make the negative headlines compose only 5.6% of centres. While would-be parents and students are reading those headlines, the remaining 94.4% of centres are quietly getting on with the job of providing caring, quality education that will positively impact a child for the rest of their life.
“While searching for international teachers is an
immediate short-term solution, we need to be doing
everything we can here in New Zealand. Improving the
desirability of early childhood teaching as an exciting and
rewarding career would be a great